Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats

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Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning occurs when cats inhale carbon monoxide gas, typically produced by fires, running vehicles, or improperly functioning fuel-burning (gas or oil) appliances.

  • Carbon monoxide binds to red blood cells and prevents them from carrying oxygen to the tissues
  • Cats rapidly develop weakness, uncoordinated movement, deafness, seizures, and loss of consciousness
  • Diagnosis primarily relies on a history of exposure, physical examination, and bloodwork
  • The first step in treating CO poisoning is to remove the cat from the source
  • Supplemental oxygen may be provided while waiting for the symptoms to resolve
  • Prognosis depends on the degree of exposure
  • Most cats recover rapidly, however some may develop long-term nervous system complications or permanent deafness
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A closer look: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats

Carbon monoxide (CO) binds strongly to red blood cells, preventing the red blood cells from carrying oxygen to the tissues. Without oxygen in the bloodstream, tissue damage and organ failure rapidly results.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is rare in cats, but can happen when cats are trapped in house fires or are locked in poorly ventilated areas with running vehicles or poorly functioning fuel-burning appliances. Cats showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning require emergency veterinary attention to prevent damage to their tissues and organs.

Risk factors

In some cases, carbon monoxide poisoning results from long-term exposure to small amounts of the gas.

Possible causes

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas produced as a result of incomplete combustion of carbon-based products. Common sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • Fires
  • Exhaust from vehicles
  • Improperly functioning fuel-burning household appliances
  • Some paint stripping agents
  • Some sprays

Common situations where cats become exposed to carbon monoxide include:

  • Becoming trapped in house or cattery fires
  • Being locked in a garage with a running vehicle
  • Being housed in areas with poorly maintained or improperly functioning appliances

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult without a history of exposure to fires or fuel-burning appliances that aren’t working properly. Diagnostic tests include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays to rule out other causes of difficulty breathing

Steps to Recovery

Treatment primarily involves removing the cat from the source of carbon monoxide. Supplemental oxygen may also be provided until the carbon monoxide is removed from the body.

Other treatments may include:

  • IV fluids
  • Sedation to keep the cat calm

Most cats recover rapidly with appropriate treatment. Cats that do not respond to treatment have a guarded prognosis.

Some cats that recover may develop symptoms of nervous system disease such as uncoordinated movement days to weeks after treatment. Cats that develop deafness from the poisoning may stay deaf.


Carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented through use of carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home or in areas where animals are housed. Keeping fuel-burning household appliances well-maintained and in good working order prevents the production of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is less likely to accumulate in well-ventilated areas.

Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Cats common?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is rare in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Supportive care


Tilley, L. P., Smith, F. W. K., Jr, Sleeper, M. M., & Brainard, B. M. - Writing for Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline.
No Author - Writing for PetMD

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